Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Energy Security & Net Zero
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Indeed. The point is that the noble Baroness opposite and I disagree, perhaps, about what the effect will be on service users and others, but the test is necessity and proportionality, as was set out so well earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Allan of Hallam. Whatever the motivations, it is a good addition to the list, in my view.

As for the noble Baroness’s point that this is will all be voluntary and the legislation will not impose anything on anyone, that really does not hold as a matter of law—not least because, as we discussed earlier, the “may/must” point is really significant; it is not hypothetical. It is hugely significant that, when one is a given a power—whether the Secretary of State is given a power to make regulations or an employer is given a power to issue work notices—they must exercise that power rationally. They cannot ignore that they have that power; they will face litigation. That is compounded in this area because the employers may well be contracted by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State would then have the purchasing power—the significant contractual power as the buyer of the service at one end—and would also wield regulations with the other hand. It is not completely ingenuous to suggest that this is all just helping the discussion and that there is no element of compulsion in it.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, much of the debate on this Bill has been concerned with its substantive content, but my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti draws attention to a major problem with the Bill; namely, its form.

I remind noble Lords that last year two committees of this House reiterated long-standing principles for drafting legislation. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, of which I have the honour to be a member, in its report Democracy Denied?, and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, in its report Government by Diktat, set out those principles, which were overwhelmingly endorsed in the debate in the House on 6 January last year. The fact is that this Bill flouts those principles. That view is reiterated by the reports on the Bill by the Delegated Powers Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Constitution Committee. In addition, as my noble friend Lord Collins has just pointed out, the Regulatory Policy Committee has described the Bill’s impact assessment as “not fit for purpose”. This raises the question of what steps this House could take to ensure that Bills comply with the principles that are essential for parliamentary democracy in this country.

I turn to my Amendment 36A in this group, which is my attempt to give some substance to—or to redress—the omission pointed out by the Delegated Powers Committee in its report on the Bill. I will read two short paragraphs from our report. Paragraph 19 says:

“The Government have chosen to put no detail in the Bill in relation to minimum service levels, leaving the matter entirely to regulations. Important matters of detail should be included on the face of the Bill, perhaps with a power to supplement those matters in regulations.”

That is my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti’s point. The conclusion, which the committee reached at paragraph 23, is:

“Given the absence of an exhaustive or non-exhaustive list in the Bill of the matters that can be included in regulations, the unconvincing reasons for this power in the Memorandum, and the absence of indicative draft regulations illustrating how the power might be exercised, the House may wish to press the Minister to provide an explanation of how the power to set minimum service levels in new section 234B(1) of the 1992 Act is likely to be exercised. In the absence of a satisfactory explanation, we regard the power as inappropriate.”

My noble friend Lady Chakrabarti says that we can make it good by passing primary legislation. I wonder whether the Government will consider the possibility—even at this stage—of introducing amendments to put those omissions into the Bill to give it at least some semblance of meeting the format and principles for the drafting of legislation.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am sorry to trouble the noble Lord a moment further, but could I invite him to express a view on the report of the Delegated Powers Committee? It points out that there is no detail in the Bill and criticises it for that. Does the noble Lord accept that criticism?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We will be responding in due course to the report from the Delegated Powers Committee. I entirely accept that this is a wide secondary-legislation-making power for the Government, but we think that it is appropriate in these circumstances.

With that, I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments.